LA’s Stahl House: Mid-century Modern Masterpiece in the Hollywood Hills
At first glance, the Stahl House appears to be a place that doesn’t draw attention to itself. Perched near the top of a winding street in the Hollywood Hills, it sits quietly among its neighbors, off the beaten path of typical Los Angeles tourist attractions. But just beyond the home’s carport is a clue on the front door that gives away its identity: C.S.H. #22.
Case Study House Number 22. From 1945 to the early 1960s, Art & Architecture Magazine commissioned major architects including Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen and Pierre Koenig to design and construct modern single family homes – mostly in Los Angeles – for the emerging baby boomer population. The Stahl House wasn’t originally part of the project, but when owners C.H. “Buck” and Carlotta Stahl hired Pierre Koenig to turn their vision into reality, it joined the Case Study House program as number 22. The result was an L-shaped, one-story glass-and-steel masterpiece that appears to float over its hillside lot, capturing uninterrupted views of the city below, ahead of its time and an icon of mid-century modern design.
The Stahl House’s modest, unassuming presence ends abruptly as you walk through the front door. The panoramic views are so immediate and so stunning that it would be easy to walk right into the swimming pool as you make your way to the edge of the property! The setting is both peaceful and electric. And in an interesting twist of roles, the house seems to become a backdrop for the scenery, giving the impression that it has been there all along.
Every room in the 2,200-square-foot house is walled in glass and opens onto the patio and the city views beyond. There are two bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, a kitchen, dining area and living room. A large stone fireplace separates the living room and dining/kitchen spaces, foreshadowing the “great room” concept of the late 20th century and today’s popular “open concept” home designs.
After the house was completed in 1960, architectural photographer Julius Shulman captured its essence with an iconic black-and-white photo of two young women conversing in the living room, the lights of Los Angeles twinkling in the distant evening sky. Shulman’s photo has become more recognizable than the house itself, an image representing an era – or representing what we may think of when that era comes to mind.
“But somehow that one scene expresses what architecture is all about. What if I hadn’t gone outside to see the view? I would have missed a historic photograph, and more than that, we would have missed the opportunity to introduce this kind of architecture to the world.” ~Julius Shulman, The Making of an Icon.
As we wandered through the rooms, I imagined what it must have been like for the Stahl’s three children to grow up in that house at a similar time as my own childhood in Minnesota, but with such a different vista and perspective. I thought about the roles the house has played – from hosting movies and photo shoots to a bucket list destination for architecture fans. I took in the little details – the vintage-looking spice bottles in the kitchen, the green shag carpeting covering one of the powder room walls, the plaque from the City of Los Angeles Heritage Commission designating the house as “Historical Cultural Monument No, 670.”
Our tour of the Stahl House lasted about an hour. Our guide had played more of a docent role, answering questions and allowing the small group of about 20 to explore on our own. Cameras were not allowed, but we were permitted to take photos with our cell phones. Everyone took turns sitting in the coveted spots along the edge of the patio, on the chaise lounges by the pool, and in the chair in the living room corner where Shulman’s famous photo was immortalized.
I was happy to learn that the Stahl family still owns the house and lives there part-time. We were told that they continue to refuse incredibly lucrative and tempting offers to purchase the property. But maybe the temptation isn’t as great as it would seem. Mixed in with the architectural masterpiece and spectacular setting of Case Study House Number 22 are a family’s memories…an intangible that can’t be valued at any price.